Spring Can Really Hang You up The Most

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes it can…even so, last night, for the second Monday, I went to hear Gene Bertoncini at Bar Henry on Houston Street. It’s a small, narrow underground bar, with a back dining room nobody uses. The evening was a splendor. His playing is so contextually rich, tender, beautiful in every sense of the word. He creates forests, stone passages under the earth, birds and roaming animals. If you have any taste for jazz guitar, come hear him, or buy his CDs. He’s also one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met.

There were a few people there when we arrived; it was noisy at the bar. Gene was playing Jobim. Charles had a long talk with him, which I couldn’t hear but I was glad to know it was going on. If we had lived properly, Charles would be playing his guitar every day.

Then everyone left but us and Gene asked us not to leave, which we had no intention of doing. We ordered dessert. Charles asked him to play some Cole Porter and he did—half a dozen songs at once. The ability of musicians to improvise so brilliantly on demand is something that always astonishes me. It’s not like other arts. It’s like love.

Later, more of Gene’s friends and fans came in, some taking turns playing, including a young guitarist from Sao Paolo, Bruno Mangueira, who was magnificent, playing American jazz with a Brazilian flair, very melodic; and an Italian woman whose name I’ve forgotten. Her music was lyrical and flowing, with an exquisite command of phrasing. We all talked. The men talked guitars: makes and models. The mood was more intimate than most dinner parties with old friends.

Twice while he was playing, Gene’s cell phone rang and he answered it—digging it out of his jacket pocket— first making a dinner arrangement with someone dear to him, the second time talking to the baggage handlers at LaGuardia who had found his bags. It made us all laugh. He has the rare ability to make you feel like you’re all casually in his living room—or rather, that he’s in yours, thrilled to be asked to play, no kind of professional, except that he just happens to be better than 99% of guitarists in the world.

I went looking for a jazz poem by William Matthews, who wrote so many good ones, but found this, which I like better today.

The Cloister

The last light of a July evening drained
into the streets below: My love and I had hard
things to say and hear, and we sat over
wine, faltering, picking our words carefully.

The afternoon before I had lain across
my bed and my cat leapt up to lie
alongside me, purring and slowly
growing dozy. By this ritual I could

clear some clutter from my baroque brain.
And into that brief vacancy the image
of a horse cantered, coming straight to me,
and I knew it brought hard talk and hurt

and fear. How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

William Matthews


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